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Flawed though it is, Maslow's theory of motivation highlights at least one important theme: We are social beings and we need to know that we belong.

Belonging needs are complex and are sometimes misunderstood. Yet most teachers would agree that children who feel they belong will learn better than those that feel excluded. Feeling accepted as a member of a group brings psychological safety as well as a sense of acceptance. We want to be known, welcome, recognised by those around us. The power of peer approval cannot be underestimated, and often becomes the source and impetus of positive behaviour within the classroom and beyond.

A key role of the teacher is to ensure that all children feel they belong. Management of behaviour, especially around the relationships children develop with each other, is a crucial aspect of professional practice for all educators. Clamping down on bullying and other marginalisation within a classroom is vital if learning is to be optimised for all.

During their teenage years I asked my two daughters what they liked most about going to school. They both replied: 'our friends.' Friendship is a vitally important ingredient throughout our lives, but it is especially crucial when we are growing up and developing our personalities and perspectives on the world.

When one of my daughters dropped her smartphone and smashed it on the stone floor of our kitchen, she was devastated. I assured her that we had insurance and that a new smartphone would be with her within a few days, but she pointed to her ruined phone and wailed 'You don't understand Dad! All my friends are in there!' She experienced grief and separation from her friends, because her relationships were being chiefly mediated through her smartphone.

Young people's lives are predominantly mediated through technology because they want to connect, belong, engage with their friends. This is why cyberbullying is particularly insidious. Children who are bullied in the classroom may rightly feel that they don't belong. Children who are bullied via technology cannot escape from the bullying because it follows them inside their smartphone.

Friendship is vital, but so is the need to feel you belong. Teachers who focus on relationship building in the classroom have begun a process that will follow children throughout their lifetimes. Making a child feel that they belong and valuing their contributions unconditionally can be the first step to that child achieving all they ever wished to be in life.

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Belonging, friendship and learning by Steve Wheeler was written in Plymouth, England and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
Posted by Steve Wheeler from Learning with e's